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22.03.01 Tischler/Marchner (eds.), Transcultural Approaches to the Bible

22.03.01 Tischler/Marchner (eds.), Transcultural Approaches to the Bible

This volume is the first in a new Brepols series, Transcultural Medieval Studies, curated by Matthias Tischler, Alexander Fidora, Kristin Skottki, and Kordula Wolf. In the past decade or so, scholars have shown an increased sensitivity toward the fact that the medieval past was not monolithic. It was composed of various and distinct identities, religions, regions, languages, and cultures. These various elements coexisted, interacted, and sometimes conflicted. Interactions between these various cultures led people to reinforce old identities or forge new ones. This new series is offering a platform for the publication of studies into these intercultural, or rather, transcultural entanglements; it hopes to cover encounters, dialogue, polemics, conversion, translation, and integration between various medieval cultures, not only within the traditional “monotheistic zone” of Afro-Eurasia, but including East Asia and the Americas as well. The term “medieval,” rather than “pre-modern” in the title is meant to be “conceived as a time-frame without fixed limits, [...] retaining its profile as an autonomous epoch bridging the before and after with its commonalities and alterities” (5).

It is perhaps fitting that the first volume should be dedicated to the study of the Bible; not as the book that defined the belief and thought of “Western” medieval culture, but as a book that in itself was the product of transcultural and inter-religious encounters, and which in turn invited both dialogue and polemics, and was often used to frame transcultural encounters within a religious worldview during much of the medieval period. As the editors say it, the Bible was “a main resource of identity building of the religious and cultural ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ in the Middle Ages” (10).

The papers collected in this volume are the product of two distinct projects: “Bible and Historiography in Transcultural Iberian Studies 8th to 12th Centuries,” held at the Institute for Medieval Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna between 2015 and 2019, and “Transcultural Approaches to the Bible, Exegesis and Historical Writing in the Medieval Worlds,” a thematic strand at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, in 2018. The book is divided according to three geographic focal points: Iberia, Latin Europe and the Near East (a somewhat forced category, since it contains only two papers, one on the sermons of Jacques de Vitry and the other on Crusading literature), and the Baltic. Although the editors in the general introduction point to many thematic connections between the various contributions, there are few general conclusions presented here. It seems that there are two different approaches to the use of the Bible presented in this volume. The first two papers (by Matthias Tischler and Eulàlia Vernet i Pons, respectively) offer studies on the Bible as a material object inviting transcultural interaction; the other papers (by Patrick Marschner, Sini Kangas, Peter Fraundorfer, and Stefan Donecker) address the use of biblical imagery and typology in reframing contemporary historiographical and semi-historiographical narratives that reflect transcultural interactions. Lydia Walker’s excellent paper on Jacques de Vitry’s use of Ezekiel 23 would seem to loosely fit into the latter category, as it deals with the use of this Bible passage to define deviant sexualities in their thirteenth-century context.

Tischler’s paper addresses one fascinating aspect of medieval bibles: the inclusion of non-biblical materials. This does not mean apocryphal books (which are, after all biblical in some sense), but histories, chronologies, biographical materials, and, in some cases, even eschatological and apocalyptic texts. The sources for such materials are varied; they range from Isidore of Seville and Josephus to Adso of Montmoutier-en-Der and the Tiburtine sibyl. According to Tischler, these materials exemplify the attempt to reframe biblical narrative in a salvational-historical context.

Where Tischler’s research is based on a wide range of bibles from the Iberian Peninsula, Vernet i Pons’ article, by contrast, is centered on one particular Bible manuscript. The so-called Bible of Vic (1268) stands out for its fascinating philological and text-critical marginal annotations. They were likely compiled by its scribe, Ramon of Saint-Saturnin, on the eve of the Barcelona Disputation. The depth of their philological learning is perhaps somewhat disappointing when compared to the learning of the other Ramon, Ramon Martí, the author of the well-known Pugio fidei. The notes in the Bible of Vic frequently offer alternative readings “in hebraeo,” but their sources are rooted not in contemporary Jewish exegesis, but based on Christian learning, some of it Patristic, and some of it derived from the Glossa ordinaria, or a Paris correctorium. Still, this particular Bible attests to the textual and philological interests of its thirteenth-century audience.

Most other contributions deal with the use and interpretation of biblical materials in the historiographical traditions of the twelfth through fourteenth centuries. Marschner’s article examines the Chronicle of Sampiro, dating from the eleventh century, a northern Iberian text describing the deeds of the kings of Asturias and León, written by bishop Sampiro of Astorga. The chronicle covers the years 866-1000. It is rich in biblical allusions, and correlates the idea of the “other” in the chronicles with that of the biblical “other,” Ammonites, Edomites, and the like. This allows the author of the chronicle to assign the struggle of the kings of Asturias and León a wider, biblical, salvific meaning, and it helps him set up a narrative of sinfulness of the nation and need for repentance. The contribution by Kangas examines the use of the Bible in Crusading sources, chronicles and chansons. The Bible is used here, perhaps not surprisingly, to portray the Crusades as the work of God and part of providential history, but it also gives the authors an opportunity to introduce the voice of God within these sources.

Walker’s article examines the use of Jacques of Vitry of Ezekiel 23, the story of the two adulterous women Olla and Ooliba. The author shows how Jacques’ sermons exemplify the “othering” of transgressive sexuality in the wake of the Albigensian crusades, by associating them with the heretics, who were deemed beyond redemption.

The last two contributions, on Baltic Crusading history, continue the themes set forth by the papers of Marschner and Kangas: the employment of biblical tropes, allegory, and typology, to fit the Baltic peoples and the Baltic crusades into providential history, especially in the work of Henry of Livonia. Fraundorfer shows how the Livs were depicted as a new chosen people, while Donecker’s paper shows how the peoples in the “wilds” of Lithuania were compared to the Hagarenes and Ishmaelites. In all, the reader will find much of value in this volume, and it would seem that the series is off to a good start.